Google's big announcement yesterday centered around their new Pixel phone but also contained a number of other devices designed for the IoT home. These devices are yet another attempt by Google to gain a foothold for it's own platform in the home by offering compelling devices with even more compelling software built in.
The Google Home device, which was previewed at Google IO in May, is Google's answer to Amazon's Echo which has been on the market for well over a year and received critical acclaim for its working voice recognition and integrations with other platforms. Google Home will feature many of the same components as the Echo for $40 less and builds in Google's Assistant which allows for even further integration into the Google Universe and voice control from the 40+ languages that Google currently supports.
Even more exciting were the integrations announced. Google Home will work with Nest, SmartThings, Hue, and IFTTT right out of the box with further integrations down the road. For music services the Google Home devices will be integrated in with YouTube Music initially with Pandora, Spotify, Tunein, iHeart Radio, and Google Play coming soon. Multiple Google Home devices can been installed around the home and grouped together to play the same source house wide.
Voice Casting, or asking Google Home to play music or video on other devices like Chromecast or Android TVs, was one of the more exciting features demoed yesterday. While the feature seems restricted to certain media providers at the moment a partnership with Netflix was announced allowing you to say phrases like "Okay Google, play Stranger Things on my TV," and have the Chromecast or Android TV take care of the video. This feature seemed ambitious at first but now looks like a simple compromise and a very simple solution.
At $129 Google Home seems like a no-brainer for anyone who is interested in getting started with home automation. The device is available for order now and will be shipping November 4th.
What remains to be seen is how or if Google will support the entire platform moving forward. Google has a serious problem with their track record of announcing and abandoning products in very short periods of time. It's interesting to note that this device was developed by the Chromecast team and not Google's Nest division which has done little to nothing to release new exciting products since their acquisition for $3 billion in 2014. Google is a big company with many large teams and divisions but one has to wonder what will happen to Google Home if some other team comes up with the next shiny toy for the home. If Google wants a home platform they need to start thinking long term and focus on delivering more permanent solutions to a wider market but for now we have an inexpensive start with Google Home.
Google also announced a mesh network based WiFi system that looks extremely similar to others launched by Eero, Ubiquity, and Luma. We're all realizing that the new home needs a solid WiFi foundation and it seems these WiFi-mesh devices are wining the battle. Good news for any OnHub purchasers out there. The Google WiFi system will mesh and configure through the same app. Each single WiFi access point will cost $129 with a 3-pack costing $299 -- nearly $100 less than most competitors.
Google seems to think we all live in "spaghetti sauce free" homes and the lifestyle images provided during the keynote were laughably absent of any real color. But really, if that's my only complaint, and it is, you can rest easy with this purchase. $129-299 seems like a great deal for a decent WiFi system.
Last but not least was a refresh to the Chromecast media player that Google currently offers. The Chromecast Ultra supports 4K HDR video and can be purchased for $69. One of the big improvements is the addition of ethernet which will keep high bandwidth 4K files from hitting and slowing down your wifi. Ethernet is so much faster and reliable especially for a device that is going to live behind TVs.
One thing to think about here for the integrators out there. This is the beginning of the end for video distribution in most homes. If you can get most (and in some cases all) of your 4K content over a $69 device there's no reason at all to assume people will be willing to pay $20,000+ for video distribution systems and all of the associated control equipment that goes along with them.
I'm sure video distribution will remain important in some residential and commercial installs but the industry is changing and its changing faster than integrators realize. I can't name one video distribution system sold through the integration channel that would be as reliable and dead simple as installing a this $69 on each TV. It's really hard to admit but the days are number for complex and pricey distribution systems as the cable companies are moving to develop app-based approaches rather than rent boxes. The world is moving toward streaming at full steam and expensive and complex systems are going to start being few and far between.
All in all Google has introduced great starting place for the smart home. While Google has a few challenges ahead of them creating an interesting and compelling product is no longer one of them. If I were starting today as DIY I'd most certainly start here.